The Teacher's Secret by Suzanne Leal ** Blog Tour Review & Author Interview**
I'm thrilled to be able to bring you an interview with Suzanne Leal to celebrate her latest novel, The Teacher's Secret which was published on March 1st. Before we hear from Suzanne, here's a little about the book.
'Suspenseful, moving and full of heart. I couldn't put it down.' Richard Glover
'A delicately woven tapestry of interlinking stories, a big-hearted book about a small community...' Joanne Fedlar
A small town can be a refuge, but while its secrets are held, it's hard to know who to trust and what to believe.
Terry Pritchard, assistant principal at Brindle Public School, watches his career collapse. Nina Foreman, a new teacher, struggles with the breakdown of her marriage and a new classroom. Rebecca Chuma is also new to Brindle: the locals are curious - what's she doing there and why can't she return home. By contrast, Joan Mather has lived in Brindle all her life. Since the death of her elderly mother, however, she's been finding it hard to leave the house.
Welcome, Suzanne to Books, Life and Everything.
Would you like to start by telling us a little about yourself and how you started as a writer?
I’m an Australian lawyer experienced in child protection, criminal law and refugee law.
The Teacher’s Secret is my second novel. My first novel, Border Street, was inspired by the life of my neighbour, Fred Perger, a Czech-Jewish man who survived the concentration camps of Dachau and Auschwitz. His story is a fascinating one and one that started me writing with more urgency. It was a juggle with small children but I reduced my hours as a lawyer to give me more time to write. The London based agent, Toby Eady - who very recently passed away - picked up the manuscript and secured a publishing deal for me.
In The Teacher’s Secret, which centres on a teacher accused of inappropriate behaviour towards his students, I drew upon my legal experience to consider issues of trust and suspicion within a small primary school.
Without giving the plot away, could you tell us a little about The Teacher’s Secret?
The Teacher’s Secret is about life in the close-knit coastal community of Brindle and the struggles and scandals of the people who live there.
Terry Pritchard, assistant principal at Brindle Public School, watches his career collapse when he is accused of inappropriate behaviour towards his students. Nina Foreman, new to the school, struggles to deal both with the breakdown of her marriage and a classroom of students who don’t like her. Rebecca Chuma is also new to Brindle: she’s a curiosity for the locals who don’t know what she’s doing there and just why she can’t return home. By contrast, Joan Mather has lived in Brindle all her life. Since the death of her elderly mother, however, she’s been finding it hard to even leave the house.
The Teacher’s Secret is a big-hearted book about a small community and the search for grace, dignity and love in the midst of dishonour, humiliation, grief and uncertainty.
The Teacher’s Secret is set in the small, close knit community of Brindle. Did you base it on any real life one?
Geographically, Brindle is very similar to the little community in south-eastern Sydney where I live: there is a golf course and a jail nearby, and a rock pool and a small strip of shops. While the setting itself is very similar, the characters in my novel are fictional.
Having said that, I have known men like Terry Pritchard: hard-working men who refuse to follow procedural requirements and hate management speak. In Nina Foreman, who is new to Brindle, there is something of me and something of the many other women I know who have juggled single parenthood with the demands of a career. Rebecca is inspired by the many women who appeared before me when I was a decision maker at the Refugee Review Tribunal.
How did you go about making sure that the school details and background were realistic?
I have four children who range between 6 and 20 years so I have spent a lot of time around schools. I used my experience as the basis for my description of life at the fictional primary school in Brindle. I also have friends who are teachers and I love hearing their stories. One of my teacher friends proofed the manuscript for me to make sure the school details were realistic.
There’s a secret at the centre of your book. Have you ever harboured one which you can now tell us about?
I accept that I am a competitive person. So when, some years ago, it was announced at my sons’ athletics carnival that there would be a parents’ 100m race, I was keen to be part of it. Scanning the field, I deduced that I would have a chance of winning the race. I reckoned without Bede’s mum who, by the fifty-metre mark, was threatening to overtake me. There were no lanes enforced for the parents’ race and I accept that I may have drifted too close to her. I may even have jostled her. And although I will continue to deny it, perhaps it’s true that I was the one to trip her over. What is certainly true is that I was the winner of the race.
When you’re not writing, what do you like to read?
I am the senior judge for an Australian literary competition, the NSW Premier’s Awards, which involves reading across all literary genres, from fiction to non-fiction and poetry to screenwriting. Whilst I like to read broadly, I most enjoy fiction. I’m currently reading The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan. Recently, I’ve been impressed by A Boy in Winter by Rachel Seiffert, The Safest Place in London by Maggie Joel and for a page-turning thriller, He said/She said by Erin Kelly. I’ve also taken to listening to audio books when I go for a run, including Melina Marchetta’s terrific novel Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil.
Do you have any upcoming projects you can share?
I’ve just finished the manuscript for a time travel story for children aged between 10 and 14 years. I’m now working on a new novel about the far-reaching consequences of long held family secrets.
The Teacher's Secret is beautifully written with well thought out plotting and characters who ring true. I enjoyed the variety of the people we met and how their lives were interwoven without seeming contrived. The community of Brindle is evoked through the everyday actions of the people and you glimpse their thoughts through small details, such as through Joan's attempts to reach out to her neighbour in her loneliness.
Anyone who has ever sat in a staff meeting in a school in the days before a new academic year will have felt Terry's pain and indignation at being unceremoniously moved by the incoming Acting Principal. I found him to be a relatable character who viewed his own behaviour through a different lens to the incoming Acting Principal. The story evolves through a series of points of view from Terry, Nina, Rebecca, Joan, Sid and briefly Laurie. As you learn more about them, you begin to see that all is not as it might appear on the surface, to the casual observer. Good intentions might not be enough. Sometimes, indeed, it takes one of the children to call things out as they are.
In short: A well written mix of characters within a close knit community.
About the Author
Suzanne Leal is a lawyer experienced in child protection, criminal law and refugee law. The Teacher's Secret is her first novel published in the UK following her well-received debut in Australia, Border Street. Suzanne lives in Sydney with her husband, David, and her four children, Alex, Dominic, Xavier and Miranda.
Thanks to Imogen Harris of Legend Press and Suzanne Leal for a copy of the book and a place on the Tour.
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